I believe in free speech*

By | March 26, 2017

“You want free speech? Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours.”

Today, I came across two Facebook updates by Andrew Loh (here and here) where he asked: 

I believe in free speech* 1
I believe in free speech* 2

I don’t normally post elaborate responses to Facebook conversations but this time I felt compelled to because:

1. I find it surprising that having suffered at the hands of the Protection from Harassment Act (POHA), Andrew does not realise the irony of what he is trying to propose.

2. The arguments put forth by some against “absolute free speech” were getting ridiculous.

You either believe in free speech or you don’t. There are no two ways about it. You can’t say that you believe in free speech, but then put a big asterisk next to it with a fine print about the conditions when speech is not free. Can you see how ridiculous it is?

It’s like one of those promotions that says “FREE!*” Who the fuck believes that?

Ok, I guess I have offended some people with that irresponsible speech. But guess what? Alvin Phua rightly pointed out:

I believe in free speech* 3

And then there are those who use the age-old fire-in-the-theatre argument to justify the boundaries for free speech:

I believe in free speech* 4

To which, without going into a long-drawn philosophical debate, Christine Sng Mechtler summed up the difference best with these three choice words:

I believe in free speech* 5

Andrew and several others mentioned somewhere (can’t remember where I saw the comments as it became difficult to track the conversations) that if we impose limits to free speech, it will have to apply fairly to everyone, including that obnoxious IB, Jason Chua. Problem is, if the law of the day ruled that what Jason the cockroach says is well within the legal framework of “free speech”, do you just go lppl?

Once you advocate that a higher authority has the right to determine what is ok within the context of free speech, you basically cede your rights to any form of free speech.

There are also some who tried to tout “responsible speech” as a substitute for “free speech”. What the fuck is “responsible speech”? Who decides what’s responsible, and responsible to whom? Once you go down this slippery road, you will risk having one party dictating to another what constitutes “responsible speech”. And the outcome is already quite obvious. Censorship.

What I believe is that free speech should be guided only by your own moral and ethical principles, and if your principles happen to be immoral/unethical, expect people to challenge them. Or walk away (hey, that’s a valid option too!).

I believe in free speech* 6

What irks me is when people resort to straw man argument to state their case against free speech, as Jolene Tan rightly observed:

I believe in free speech* 7
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3 thoughts on “I believe in free speech*

  1. Anonymous

    If anyone like Alvin Phua admits that he's sprouting nonsense, sure it's fine and it's within his rights to sprout nonsense, as it just goes to show his level of intelligence – he wants freedom of speech just to sprout nonsense, and not to advocate any point or wider issue of concern. But what is your definition of the context of free speech? Can anyone insult everyone else without being responsible for their own words? Correct me if I'm wrong, you agree that people do not need to bear any responsibility for what they say.

    Being free to say anything is a different issue from being responsible for what you say. I think we should have the right and freedom to express our thoughts or constructive criticism (ie. without cursing and swearing and insulting people), by laying out our points in a rational and objective way that contributes to discussion, and with rights and freedom come responsibility. Whether we can be free without being responsible is another point for debate. Responsibility for our speech means that as mature thinking adults, we need to be our own judge of what we say. Not for higher authorities to tell us what to say and what not, but for ourselves to evaluate what we espouse, what we say. In simple words, if one sprouts rubbish, then he is rubbish – he has nothing better to say. Nothing wrong with that, again showing his own level of intelligence. For people who use the cover of free speech to lie, hurt and insult others – I think it's dead wrong. First and foremost, I bear responsibility to myself – I choose to say something that's factual and true versus lies. That's what bullies in real life are like. They taunt the victim and verbally abuse victims because they do not take responsibility for what they say. If the bully keeps saying the victim is ugly and fat, ugly and fat, and should go and die and thereby causing the victim to commit suicide (it has happened before, to bullied students even teenagers), do you say that it's the bully's right to freedom of speech and freedom of expression? Words can kill, literally. Words can rob a person of what s/he has in life. Just look at all the examples of people making inappropriate/insensitive comments on Facebook and losing their job. Why? Are you going to say that the employers should not interfere with their right to freedom of speech? Are you analysing and questioning the contents of "offensive" posts? Were the people who posted offensive comments factually and socially correct for saying that? Are you agreeing that anyone has the right to make offensive comments? Again, therein lies my point – what is your definition of the context of free speech? Anything goes?

    It is not to anyone else or any higher authorities to judge what to say when it comes to responsible speech – you are your own judge of what you say to the world. And when a person does not even take responsibility for what they say, they are worse than a coward. The second responsibility in saying anything is to the people you hurt with your words, intentionally or unintentionally.

  2. Anonymous

    Just to add, everyone should have freedom of speech. Oh ya including the IS terrorists too. They advocate that the non-Muslim world and everyone who opposes their killing tactics should be killed i.e. enemies of their religion. Oh of course they have their right to say that. Let them convert more and more terrorists to their cause. Youtube doesn't need to ban them. Why don't we let them hold public talks in Singapore? BECAUSE everyone has freedom of expression. Back to my point, what is your definition of the context of free speech?

  3. Stephen Yeo

    Your long and often contradictory comment just goes to show that you either didn't read my post or you are incapable of comprehending it. Or both.

    Actually, your take on Alvin Phua's comment is a dead giveaway and I realise that if I were to come down to your level to respond, it will set my IQ back a couple of notches.

    But just to entertain you, your attempt to lump lies and bullying with free speech is disingenuous at best. All I can see is that you are trying to form a tenuous link between free speech and the dangers it causes.

    I'm not sure what's your beef with free speech, but your words are charged with emotions which unfortunately cloud your reasoning.


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